Our second stop in Italy was the picturesque and surreal Lago di Como or Lake Como area, which is the 3rd largest lake it Italy and borders Switzerland. The drive to Lake Como from Milan is HIGHLY recommended, its not too long- just a few hours and just an amazing experience cruising along the edge of the pristine glacial lake and getting to see its entire length with all the beautiful little towns that dot the shore. We rented an SUV since we were 4 people with bags, and kept that car from Milan to Lake Como to Venice before returning it, it turned out to be pretty reasonable when divided between us. It’s really lovely to be able to drive and see the quaint countryside that Italy is so famed for. Stop at a grocery store on your way and stock up on super affordable and delicious meats, cheese and fruit to snack on in the car.
We stayed in the town of Bellagio, hands down one of the most magical places I have ever seen in my life, complete with an endless maze of cobbled alleyways made of stairs, small little eateries, beautiful, old architecture, oh, and a casual view of the Swiss Alps over a pristine Lake Como from almost everywhere you turn. While arriving, google maps led us down a street that was so narrow that a car and walking pedestrians could not fit at the same time, everyone was giving us dirty looks while we panicked and drove down a road that looked like it was just for walking. We thought we may have come down a no entry, thankfully it opened up and led us to our hotel. Over the span of the next few days we saw many cars struggle with the same section, but that’s the charm of Italy, you’re driving along and you’re suddenly faced with reminders of days gone by, when cars and vehicles and other such issues didn’t exist. The ambiance of places like these remains unchanged with time.
The Hotel Metropole Bellagio was to be our base for the next couple days. This is a 19th century hotel right on the water, and we paid a little extra to have lake facing rooms. Great decision! The view was just unreal, and we reached our rooms just in time for sunset in the balcony and a few bottles of prosecco (my fave!) before dinner. Even though I went in August it was still a lot cooler than Milan since this area is at a slight elevation, so pack a few light layers if you plan on heading here, especially for night when theres a solid nip in the air. Also be warned that all the restaurants close early, by 11 or even slightly earlier. We got delayed on the first night because of all the wine drinking and had to settle for one of the commercial (and crappy) restaurants right on the water for our first meal. These places will tend to over charge and serve you subpar food, so as in any country, stay away from places where staff is calling you in, ones that are on main streets or have big boards outside with combo deals etc. They will never live up to what you have in mind even though you may see a whole lot of tourists eating there. Do your research on sites like TripAdvisor to find the best things to do around you, and plan earlier that day to make reservations during peak hours and weekends. Its disappointing on vacation to not have a fantastic meal every time you eat, except for when you have to settle for airport and train food in between destinations, and being in a place like Italy whose food is so famous worldwide, I really didn’t want to have any bad dining experiences. You live and learn, I guess.
After a very mediocre dinner we decided to buy some wine and plastic glasses (you can do this at any convenience store across Italy) and walk around the postcard perfect & historic town of Bellagio. I really felt like I has stepped back at least a few hundred years, nothing seemed to have changed. All the buildings, churches and roads were frozen in some other time, and I’m sure people were doing the same thing we were doing even 500 years back. On this trip I found that the best way to see a city is late at night while everyone is asleep. Everything looks so romantic and dimly lit, you almost feel like you have the whole place to yourself. This is exactly how Bellagio felt to us that night, as the 4 of us walked around the town without an agenda, giddy from all the wine.
We started the next day nice and early with plans to get breakfast and then started to explore the various small towns on the lake. We didnt need our car during our time in Lake Como, instead there is a boat service in Lake Como with services running every 45 minutes or so at the various towns, and you can either take the express which is faster or the regular speed. Buy a ticket at the pier, hop on and take a cruise down the lake marvelling at the natural beauty, the gorgeous old Italian homes that dot the coast, and the manicured gardens Lake Como is so famed for. You can even try spotting George Clooney’s lakeside mansion if you want 😉 Our first stop for the day was the historic Villa d’Este Hotel in Cernobbio, which is originally a 16th century summer residence for the Cardinal of Como. This historic 5 star hotel is set right on the water with 25 acres of perfectly manicured gardens and lawns, restaurants and a swimming pool that floats on the water. They have maintained most of the original architecture and style, and today rooms start at a pricey 1000 euro per night. We just went for lunch, a few drinks with a view, and a leisurely stroll through the gardens. I would never leave, it was that beautiful. I felt like Alice in Wonderland 🙂
Post Villa d’Este I was headed back to main pier at the city of Como where we had arrived and then taking a fun ride on something called a funicular, which was basically an uphill sort of tram. This funicular connects the the town of Como to the village of Brunate, a small picturesque village with 1800 residents up on a mountain at a height of 750 meters. Both locals and tourists use this line, and its been operating since 1894. From Brunate you have panoramic views of the city of Como and the lake, as well as just the sweetest little town to check out. For something that only takes 7 minutes to get to the top, its truly worth waiting in line to check out. Like all other places in Italy, you can buy wine while you wait (wine all day everyday). Up in the town there are a few restaurants and bars but most people just take a few pictures, walk around a little and head back down. Definitely worth doing, and only takes an hour or so total if you don’t have too much time.
By now it was evening, so we grabbed some gelato while strolling towards the pier for our boat to Varenna. Varenna is small, ancient town founded by fisherman in 769 A.D and was even more picturesque than Como and Bellagio. You have to take steep stairs down to the water and then walk sideways past all the old homes, cafes and wine bars. I was enchanted beyond belief and would put this in my top 5 favourite towns in the world. Everything is made of old stone with dim, orange lights and a maze of alleyways with old homes on either side, opening up to unexpected little courtyards with a wine bar or two and people laughing and clinking glasses. Sigh, why did I have to leave? In another life, I’d like to be an artist living here in a small stone house with high ceilings, overlooking the purple glow of dusk shimmering upon the lake. Dinner tonight was at Caffe Varenna, a little place set on the cobblestoned area overlooking the lake. They had simple, delicious food, great wine and outdoor seating with a cool breeze blowing in off the water. Really what more do you need in life? After dinner we did one of our usual long walks exploring alleyways without knowing where we were going, I would suggest you set apart time everyday in Italy to do this, for this is when it really starts seeping into your soul.
Fresh as a daisy the next morning, we woke up, checked out of the hotel, grabbed a cappuccino and started our drive to Venice. But first, our friend Stas had woken up early and found a sweet little spot where you could walk down to the lake. We grabbed some sandwiches to eat at our picnic spot before hitting the road. Lake Como is full of these secluded spots if you have the time to look, and while 2 days didn’t do it justice, it was still great to be able to see this region of Italy with its unique landscape.
So we said goodbye to this dreamlike region with a promise to be back soon, and started the journey to Venice with a plan of stopping at the town of Verona for lunch. Onwards again!
Up next, Varenna and the mystical Venice. Stay tuned!
Jasleen Gill is a fashion & celebrity stylist, model, and blogger currently residing in Mumbai, India.READ MORE